Recent Attack Puts Pet Owners on Notice, Warns New York Personal Injury Lawyer

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Recent pet chimpanzee attack on a Connecticut woman may make pet owners more liable in the future, according to New York Personal Injury attorney Richard Gurfein.

The owner of any animal

Grabbing all the headlines lately was the tragic story of a Stamford, Conn. woman who was horribly mauled by her friend's two-hundred-pound pet chimpanzee and hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.

For one New York City personal injury lawyer, this unprovoked and brutal attack on the 55-year-old woman by a pet chimp, once featured in television commercials for Coca-Cola and Old Navy, calls into question the larger legal issue of pet ownership and responsibility, and the rights of victims of an animal attack to bring a civil suit against the pet's owner.    

According to Richard Gurfein, a leading New York personal injury lawyer, in order to recover damages, the victim of an attack must prove that the owner was aware of the pet's "vicious propensities" based on the prior behavior of the animal.

"The owner of any animal," Gurfein said, "is responsible for all of the damages caused by the animal, when the owner knew, or should have known, the animal was capable of being vicious and could cause injury to a person. "The owner of such an animal," the New York accident attorney added, "can be found negligent just as in any other accident, like an auto accident, or a trip and fall, where negligence is a cause of injury to someone."

In the wake of the highly-publicized chimp attack, the U.S. House of Representatives made its first official move to ban humans from owning primates as pets, overwhelmingly voting in favor of passage of the Captive Primate Safety Act, which prohibits people from buying, or transporting primates across state lines to keep as pets. The Humane Society of the United States applauded the bill, which passed by a vote of 323 to 95.

But primates aren't the only animals that have been known to attack humans.

Gurfein noted that a study by the New York City Department of Health found that there were 6,568 dog bites reported in 1998. Of that total, 95% took place in the five boroughs with 28% reported in Brooklyn, 25% in Queens, 19% in the Bronx, 13% in Manhattan and 5% other.

Bites are the most common type of injury people suffer from an animal," Gurfein explained. "Dog bites represent a major source of morbidity, mortality, disability and healthcare cost in New York City.

"Not only are there medical costs," he added, "but the associated pain and suffering takes it's toll, particularly if the victim is a child."

Gurfein said that dogs could be classified as dangerous based upon its actions, its breed, or the actions of its owner. Depending on the jurisdiction, the owner of a dog that has been classified as "dangerous" is required to act as a reasonably prudent owner in protecting others from their pet. The law doesn't require the pet always act viciously. All the law requires is that the pet displays the propensity to possibly harm others. In these cases the owner must take care to avoid injury to those with whom the pet may come in contact.

Through January 20, 2002, the most recent data available from Animal People, an animal advocacy organization, pit bulls terriers and Rottweilers together appear to commit about two-thirds of the reported animal attacks on humans in the U.S.    

The organization classifies "severe injury" as any physical injury to a human being that results in muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations or requires multiple sutures or corrective or cosmetic surgery.

The New York City Administrative Code provides for the regulation of dangerous dogs. The Commissioner of Health is empowered to conduct hearings to determine if confinement, destruction or a less harsh penalty is appropriate in any given circumstance. The intent of the law is to protect the citizens of New York from unwarranted attacks and injuries by pets whose owners should know they pose a threat.

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